Calls grow to stop US deportations to Haiti amid political crisis

Calls Grow to Stop U.S. Deportations to Haiti Amid Political Crisis

US & Canada

Washington DC – A plane carrying dozens of Haitian migrants expelled from the United States under a controversial public health rule landed in Port-au-Prince on July 6.

It was the 35th deportation flight since US President Joe Biden took office, sending some 2,000 Haitian asylum seekers, including families, pregnant women and children, back to rampant gang violence and systemic poverty. who fled.

Less than 24 hours later, gunmen stormed the home of President Jovenel Moise in the Haitian capital, killing him and wounding his wife and setting off shock waves throughout the Caribbean nation and around the world.

Back in the United States, the deadly attack raised new concerns among defenders of the Haitian community, who long before Moise’s assassination had demanded an end to US deportations of migrants and asylum seekers to Haiti.

“We call on the Biden government to put a moratorium on all deportations and release asylum seekers and Haitian refugees detained in light of this crisis,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network, a social service. and advocacy agency that helps Haitians in South Florida.

“We have been asking questions for months,” Bastien told Al Jazeera.

‘Simply unacceptable’

Immigration advocates say no U.S. deportation flights have landed in Haiti since the country was plunged into further confusion over Moise’s murder last week, as the Haitian constitution is unclear on who should take over. the position and at least three leaders have competing leadership claims.

But they are increasingly concerned about the deportation of Haitian asylum seekers who arrive at the US-Mexico border, as well as their continued detention in the United States under the public health rule known as Title 42.

“It is simply unacceptable that they are being held in cages instead of being released to join their families and community members,” said Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a US-based coalition of Haitian nonprofits.

“We are calling on the Biden administration to stop all deportations and removals under Title 42 and to release all asylum seekers – all [detained] Haitian citizens seeking asylum in the United States,” Jozef told Al Jazeera.

Most migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are being deported under Title 42, which was invoked last year by former President Donald Trump on the grounds that it was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. .

So far, Biden has kept the measure in place, citing the pandemic, though it exempted children traveling alone from immediate moves. But human rights groups and progressives have criticized the policy as a way to block asylum in the country.

While Central American migrants, who make up the majority of arrivals, are sent back to Mexico, US authorities send Haitians directly back to Haiti, a nation that has been crippled by political instability, poverty, disease, gang violence and the lasting effects of a major earthquake that struck the small island nation more than a decade ago. They are being held by immigration pending deportation.

A day after Moise’s murder, a group of 134 pro-immigrant organizations wrote a joint letter to the Biden government urging that the detention and expulsion of Haitian migrants be stopped immediately.

“Armed gangs control many streets and have been kidnapping civilians, including schoolchildren and church pastors in the middle of their services. Now, experts warn that the political vacuum left by the assassination of President Moise could exacerbate the current cycle of violence in Haiti, ”the letter reads.

“No Haitian should be subjected to expedited removal or reinstatement of removal given the lives at stake and the Biden administration’s own assessment of dangerous conditions in Haiti”

Immigration detention

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment in time for publication.

DHS, which administers the U.S. immigration system, does not have a breakdown of the nationalities of people detained by immigration, and advocates for the Haitian community did not have an estimate of the number of Haitian citizens currently detained.

According to TRAC Immigration, a research group affiliated with Syracuse University, more than 27,000 migrants of all nationalities have been detained at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities since July 8, awaiting deportation.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration recognized the dangers Haitians face if returned to their home country. On May 22, the US cited instability and violence in Haiti by announcing a new 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians already in the US, protecting them from deportation. and allows them to work legally in the country.

“Haiti is experiencing serious security problems, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty and a lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the Secretary of Security. National, Alejandro Mayorkas. said at that time.

“After careful consideration, we determine that we must do everything possible to support Haitian citizens in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so that they can return home safely.”

But the designation has yet to be published in the Federal Register, which is necessary to formalize the announcement and allow Haitians to start running. The TPS designation also does not protect those who came to the US after May 21, prompting more criticism from immigration experts who say the latest events in Haiti require a more proactive response.

“Given the murder and an already extremely serious situation in Haiti even before the murder, which merited TPS designation, it is extremely unsafe to deport people to Haiti,” said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice based in United States and Democracy in Haiti.

“Our view is that no one should be deported to Haiti, period, whether or not they technically meet the TPS requirements, once they post the notice, even if they arrive after May 21,” Forester told Al Jazeera.

Thousands in Mexico

Meanwhile, the Bridge Alliance estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 Haitians currently live in violence-plagued Mexican border towns where black migrants in particular are vulnerable to exploitation and attack.

Some have been waiting up to four years for the opportunity to apply for asylum in the US, as many were prevented from crossing under Trump, whose administration severely limited access to asylum as of 2017.

Mayorkas said Tuesday that the United States has yet to see an increase in Haitian asylum seekers, but warned migrants from Haiti and neighboring Caribbean island Cuba, currently in the grip of protests and shortages of basic goods, not to travel to the United States. by sea.

“Let me be clear: if you jump into the sea, you will not come to the United States,” he said during a press conference. “No migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of his nationality, will not be allowed to enter the United States,” he said. “This risk is not worth taking.”

Nicole Phillips, legal director for the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said concerns are now mounting that even if deportation flights for Haitians are stopped, those arriving in the US will remain in detention, for potentially long periods of time.

Those who have been paroled often have bracelets placed on their ankles that have caused health problems, she said Phillips, adding that most Haitians have relatives in the United States with whom they could stay.

“Almost all the Haitians I have talked to have relatives [in the US] who can receive them if they get out of jail. And there are networks of shelters where they can go, ”she told Al Jazeera. “They don’t need to be stopped.”

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